Cooking with terpenes is a fantastic way to enrich any culinary experience. These compounds provide all the flavours and aromas in a meal. A number of scientific studies have also linked terpene content with many therapeutic properties. Therefore, cooking with terpenes from the cannabis plant may raise dishes to a completely new level that is full of benefits.
Terpenes are one of nature’s gifts that humans can enjoy. For millennia, the natural flavours and aromas of the essential oils of plants have been used for medicinal and spiritual purposes. Although these compounds have been studied primarily for their value in aromatherapy, the legalisation of medical cannabis has now opened the door to their thorough research, which has led to the discovery of their outstanding therapeutic potential.
But, as terpenes take centre stage in the area of natural medicine, a growing number of cannabis users have also become interested in them for gastronomic purposes. More specifically, chefs are discovering terpenes as very useful additives for food, cocktails, desserts, etc.
Cooking with terpenes is all about learning how to work with bold flavours. This involves combining them with other ingredients and learning how to dose them in a smart way. Understanding how to use terpenes in the kitchen makes your food taste better, improves its nutritional value, and also increases its therapeutic benefits.
Before you put terpenes in food, you need to understand what they are. When you tear a basil leaf or slice a lemon, what you smell are terpenes, i.e. the organic compounds found in plants, fruits, and vegetables that provide them with their smell and taste.
Terpenes are also responsible for the smell and flavour of cannabis. There are hundreds of different marijuana varieties, each with a distinct composition of dominant terpenes. Furthermore, over 100 different types of terpenes have been found in cannabis, which explains why this plant can sometimes have an earthy, floral, or even sweet aroma.
Commercial terpenes are extracted from cannabis, while others are obtained from various botanical sources, or are synthetically isolated in a laboratory. Regardless of their origin, products can be divided into three main types: isolates, blends, and strain profiles, which are formulations that emulate the terpene profile of specific cannabis varieties, either by combining individual cannabis terpenes or terpenes from other fruits and vegetables.
If you’re looking to use terpenes in beverages, vinaigrettes, marinades, or other tasty foods, a good rule of thumb is to always use isolated terpenes instead of terpene blends or strain terpene profiles: the latter contain from two to six different terpenes, which can complicate the process when specific flavours are infused.
As the name suggests, isolated terpenes contain a single extracted terpene in its purest form. This makes them ideal for a number of applications in the kitchen, with the added advantage of their inherent health benefits. For instance:
Since they are composed of different terpene combinations, strain terpene profiles are slightly more complicated to use with food than isolated terpenes. The important thing to remember is the overall taste and aroma of the cannabis variety that they represent.
For example, the terpene profile of a Blackberry Gum can work perfectly on an apple or blueberry pie, whereas a Thunder Banana profile can be a great addition to a homemade fruit smoothie or a vanilla protein shake.
It goes without saying that the terpene profiles of the different strains go beyond the simple taste and smell of their respective homonyms. This means that, if you infuse your food with strain profiles such as Santa Marta Haze (with its spicy, fruity flavour); Amnesia (spicy and sour); or any other profile with a high concentration of the sedative linalool, you may end up with added anti-insomnia properties as well as with an improved flavour.
Think of cooking with terpenes as killing two birds with one stone: not only does this lead to an even tastier dish, but those who eat it also enjoy their potential health benefits. This means satisfying your palate as well as your body and mind, all at the same time. To achieve this, you’ll need to follow these top tips:
Perhaps the most common cause of setbacks when infusing individual terpenes into foods and beverages is to overlook their respective boiling points, as these vary significantly from one terpene to another.
The terpene pulegone, for instance, boils at 224°C, so it is on the high side of the spectrum, which makes it ideal for use even in pressure cooker or oven recipes. On the other hand, beta-caryophyllene boils at a much lower temperature (119°C), which makes it more suitable for blends at room temperature for things like sauces or marinades, or in recipes that require slow cooking.
When pushed beyond their boiling temperatures, terpenes may lose their most important characteristics, such as their taste, aroma, or positive health potential. They could also evaporate, so you must pay close attention to the cooking method that you use. Or, better yet, cook over a normal heat before introducing a drop of terpenes at the end.
Terpenes should be used together with the usual ingredients in specific dishes. They are not meant to replace those ingredients. The key here is to find the perfect marriage between them, which can be achieved by knowing which staple foods in the kitchen contain terpenes. Rosemary, for instance, contains pinene. Rosemary chicken already contains real rosemary, but you can always add a drop of pinene to enhance the effects of this herb.
It is easier to add salt and pepper to a mild dish than to reduce the amount of seasoning, and the same rule applies to terpenes. The goal is to enhance the flavour that is already provided by the common ingredients, making the dish more flavoursome and aromatic but without being overwhelming. For example, a sweet lavender bread should only emit a touch of lavender and should never smell like a lavender soap when taken out of the oven. The biggest challenge when cooking with terpenes is learning how to match complementary flavour profiles and how to get the right measurements.
But food isn’t the only thing that can be improved with the addition of terpenes. These compounds can also enhance the taste and therapeutic effects of CBD oil; as well as those of dried flowers of the strains known as ‘cannabis light’ (i.e. varieties with less than 0.3% THC content); or even of industrial hemp. You only need to add a few drops of terpenes to turn a mediocre bud into one with an outstanding aroma and flavour.
Full-spectrum CBD oils already contain terpenes. But there are also isolated CBD oils which only contain CBD and have very little taste; so some manufacturers add terpenes to them to obtain flavours such as lemon and lime, cinnamon, or even green mint, according to the consumers’ taste.
CBD products with this type of terpenes help to create what is known as the ‘entourage effect’, which explains how the different substances found in cannabis (cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc.) act synergistically with each other to enhance their properties, making their effects greater than those of the same isolated components.
Whether you’re a professional chef or just a food enthusiast, there’s always a need to improve the taste and smell of every prepared meal. After all, cooking is a creative endeavour, and creativity always involves discovery and imagination.
So it’s high time for foodies to discover terpenes and imagine the ways in which these compounds can fuel their culinary adventures. These organic substances have the power to take any dish to the next level, so they’ll soon become a staple in the kitchen, sharing the cupboards with more common ingredients like herbs and spices.